Learning about deer in Fluvanna County

By Heather Michon

If you live in Fluvanna County, you can’t avoid deer. In our fields, by our roadsides, in our yards, they are everywhere—a hazard for drivers, a nuisance for gardeners, a challenge for hunters, a delight for nature-watchers.

But for all their ubiquity, most of us know very little about our ungulate neighbors. To that end, the Lake Monticello Homeowners Association’s Wildlife Committee invited Mike Dye, a biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) to share some key facts about the whitetail deer.

For residents of Lake Monticello, deer are a perennial flashpoint, with some calling for the herd to be culled and others arguing that we should live and let live.

Dye made it clear from the outset that he wasn’t going to take a position on that issue. “So hopefully, you’re not gonna be too disappointed,” he joked.

Compared to other parts of the state, the deer population in Fluvanna County is “in the lower tier of the moderate population. So it’s not an extremely abundant population, but it’s not an extremely low population either.” According to VDGIF data, Fluvanna’s herd has remained extremely stable over the past 25 years.

Dye said Virginia ranks 12th in the nation for vehicle/deer collisions. According to State Farm, Virginia drivers, 1 in every 74 drivers will hit a deer in any given year. Not long ago, he pointed out, the state was in the top ten for collisions, “we are seeing some progress on that front.”

Part of that he credits to the state’s wildlife management plan. Deer fencing programs along the interstates are also showing promise; VDOT officials announced recently that a fencing initiative in the Crozet area of I-64 have reduced wildlife collisions 98% since they were installed in 2017.


The fall and early winter is the prime time for collisions, in part because of their breeding cycle. “If you think about a hormone-driven 17-year-old boy running around, that’s exactly what we’re dealing with on the road right now,” he said. “They don’t think about what they’re doing. They’re running out in front of cars, they’re running into cars. They’re trying to find as many females as they possibly can, in hopes of trying to breed as many as they possibly can.”

Dye also focused on the health of the herd. “You see a lot of things on the news about deer ‘zombie diseases’ and scary headlines to get you to click on the articles, and make you really scared to go outside because there are zombies here out there.”

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was first seen in the Virginia herd in 2009 in Frederick County, near the West Virginia border. Since then, there have been about 68 cases identified, all but one of which were found in that border region.

Although always fatal to deer, it’s not clear if CWD is transmissible to humans. Dye encouraged people to keep on the lookout for deer who seemed to be behaving abnormally, particularly if they seem to be walking unsteadily or drooling. “Not,” he implored, “if it’s just a deer standing on your porch eating hostas or whatever you have.”

Lyme disease is another concern. You don’t contract Lyme from deer, but from the ticks that hitch a ride on them. “It’s something to definitely be concerned about and take precautions with, but don’t be so quick to blame just the deer.”

He said there have been a few research projects where they have seen a reduction in tick densities when they reduced deer populations. A couple of studies seem to show reduced infection rates. But the connection isn’t entirely clear. “Maybe it’s not just the deer population reduction, maybe it’s people are becoming more aware of the issue and taking more precautions,” he said. “There’s a lot of conflicting information on that.”

Acorns are a major part of a deer’s fall diet, and when the acorn crop is scarce, Dye said it is not uncommon to see an uptick in mortality rates in the winter. So far, this year looks to be a poor acorn year.

Still, Dye encouraged people not to ignore state laws and LMOA rules and feed deer over the winter. People are well-intentioned when they put out corn or other foods, but deer digestive systems are sensitive, and it takes them time to adapt to new foods. Throwing their gut bacteria out of balance makes it difficult for them to process their normal diets, robbing them of nutrients at a time when they need them the most.

“It creates a lot more issues than it solves.”

If you would like to learn more about deer, visit https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/deer/

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